The best bets in college hoops

Jeff Haney suggests odds to lock in now

Kentucky’s looking like a good bet at odds of 7-2.
Photo: James Crisp/AP

Picking Winners is the title of an influential guide to handicapping thoroughbreds, but not necessarily something informed sports gamblers care much about. Those who follow sports betting only on a superficial level tend to misunderstand this point. They might not realize, for example, a savvy bettor might love Bowling Green laying 2.5 points and Austin Peay getting 4.5—in the same game. The betting line dictates the wager, not which team is supposedly “gonna kill ’em.”

To wit, during a recent poker game on the Strip someone asked me if I thought Syracuse is a good bet to win the 2011-12 college basketball championship. I had to explain that I would hate the Orange at odds of 5-1 but would probably want them in my portfolio at around 15-1 if I could find that price. I hope the distinction was clear.

Then again, at the same table a player authoritatively announced that this year’s World Series of Poker European tournament was conducted in, as he put it, “Cains.” You know, the city in France known for its film festival. “Cains.” This piece of information was greeted by solemn nods of agreement all around the table. Sigh. I knew there was a good reason that I wear ear buds at the poker table even when I’m not listening to music.

Just as horseplayers try to lock in juicy prices in the Kentucky Derby future book as early as January, college basketball bettors look for good odds on the national title game near the start of the season. Here are three early plays I like (odds are from the Las Vegas Hilton and are subject to change):

Chalk (short-priced favorite): Of the teams with odds in single digits (9-1 or less), Kentucky is the most attractive choice at odds of 7-2. Ranked second in both major polls, the Wildcats host No. 1 North Carolina on December 3. The two teams could meet again in the national championship game.

Mid-range selection: With its seasoned backcourt and multifaceted offense, give me Florida at 30-1. Losing to No. 3 Ohio State was no disgrace, especially considering the Gators covered the spread.

Long shot: My favorite play of the three is Xavier at odds of 60-1. I expect point guard Tu Holloway and a talented supporting cast to lead the Musketeers to a deep run in the tournament. Of course at, say, 30-1, I would pass.


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